I’m writing to you for help. Weeks now, I’ve attempted to find a song or an image that best summarizes this holiday season. From harvest to final ball drop, I can’t seem to choose. I’m under a deadline, but the noise, Dad. Honking cars, helicopters, the news. Too much to integrate. Deafening tinnitus ringing louder than sweet silver bells. What am I to do?
Santa never meant that much to me. True, I helped set out home bakes and spent eves pressed against a cold window straining to spot his sleigh. Sleep won out every time. Your old dress sock greeted us each Christmas morning filled with Wrigley’s gum, playing cards, lip balm, and other oddities. We’d run to each other’s rooms and share our begotten loads with such excitement. Your belly laugh and the mystery of your sneakiness made Santa a chump.
“Away in a Manger” isn’t quite the right tune. Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus made less impact on me than the Gospel intended. Yes, I still put out Grandma’s nativity scene each year—even with the superglued goat’s head and the cracked manger. Some items are sacrosanct, though setting up the crèche is merely habitual.
Maybe I should write my own dedication?
An Ode in extreme brief to the year 2018:
“Oh, Hallelujah Chorus and get the Hell out.”
Um…You’re a George Frideric Handel singing fan. My apologies.
Let me try again.
An Ode in brief to the year 2018 (revised):
“As ornaments nestle all snug in their bins, menorahs lay tightly wrapped and tucked in. The cards are all stacked and handled with care. Lights, candles, wraps, and tape hide away there. Dazed children buzz on new screen time highs. The rest of us burp our collective sighs. Let us raise a toast to attempt good cheer. Clink glasses, my friends. Adieu 2018, what a terrible year.”
While this may have been a good twelve months for the shortlist, 2018 broke records in sucking the rotted tooth goo from an evil-eyed goat. Checking the news, reading blogs, personal essays, op-eds, and interacting online affirms my assessment. (Sorry Dad, I forgot you’re fond of goats.)
Sure, peppered among les misérables are those freshly married, graduated, babied, newly housed. But mon père, bad times have smacked the world. Puerto Rico had no electric power for 11 months. Brexit stalled. Russia, Cambridge Analytica—those were investigated— while our president and the newest Supreme Court appointee slid on by without consequence. We watch them all playing Jeux Sans Frontières like little children’s games. Rules aren’t rules when they change mid-play.
This negativity spans the whole year (and you know I’m nauseatingly positive). Our Congress marches closer toward leasing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: a 1.6 million-acre leasing plan. Oil for SUVs. Fat checks to our oil kings. Griming the atmosphere as the administration rolls back clean air regulations.
Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to step down when her term ends. Germans are pushing back against her immigrant hospitality.
…That couple over 2000 years ago. They are forced to travel on foot and must stop to give birth in unclean conditions. Times are dreadful for these displaced people seeking refuge.
* * *
See my struggle, Daddy? How do I find the musical score or icon to help recount compounding suffering? There is no arc, no Act I, Act II, or Act III. New Year’s is almost nigh and I’m running out of time. What heavenly image speaks to me?
Recently and in a concentrated dose, the firmament opened up and rained dévasté upon the Southland. We didn’t need chaos, though rain would’ve been divine.
November’s election besieged Los Angeles. Infernal, violent, with chilling irony, stories glutted the news. On November 7th, a Ventura County bar, filled with college students, hosted a line dancing competition that ended in slaughter. Some of these young brights survived the Las Vegas shootings only to die a few miles up the 101 freeway. This assault that killed 12 was the 307th mass U.S. shooting in 2018. But within hours, grieving families and friends no longer had the country’s outstretched arms. Gunfire was upstaged by real fire. Celebrity, high-profile fire. Malibu Style.
Not everyone had private fire rescue teams.
In the Woolsey firestorm while a close family’s home burned down, our son was called to Malibu.
FRIDAY, NOV. 8th 5:00 am
SHELTER IN PLACE
We didn’t know how he’d survive. Do you remember that moment in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds when Tom Cruise lets loose the tight grip on his son’s jacket? The valiant youth pushes away to join forces against the intelligent invaders. We watched our son go. Four days later, he made his way home.
Just hours before leaving, Nathan had barely processed the Ventura bar attack. He’d faced a tragic mass shooting at his university. The close family lost everything: a double-wide in a hidden paradise of overgrown hills dried out from human-influenced climate change. They’d lived together bringing love and peace to everyone who met them. Their one-month-old baby wasn’t hurt. Thankful, his parents grieve the quiet, healthy land he would’ve played on where toys, blankets, books, and clothes burned.
Dad…just days before the fire, I couldn’t sleep. The 6th sense vigil had begun. 4 am and staring, electric and tense. When the text came, I didn’t shudder. Mom. Her brilliant brain filling with water. She’s left with confusion, paranoia, fear.
Now she has entered that long goodbye. There’s no rescuing her.
I strain to hear her voice but no longer can.
Once, we sang the duet, “He Shall Feed His Flock Like A Shepherd” from Handel’s Messiah. I don’t remember where. Do you remember? Our voices were the same bells. Mine higher than hers. The message echoes the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming the Messiah would be lowly born and exalted a king.
He would grant his believers rest. Do you rest from your labors?
Well— Mother Mary couldn’t rest from hers! Travail is the French word for labor pain. This might be the right descriptor for our year, 2018.
I question why a story was written describing a birth where the mother and father were cast out, facing hardship and suffering, and were met with one person’s kindness. Not much of a kindness, but when there was no room at the inn—when all denied them—he gave shelter.
You taught me to fact check:
The family had to travel due to King Herod’s persecution, according to The Book of Matthew. It was the Roman census, some theologians add. Historians state that people were conscripted to physically announce themselves to the nearest city’s census center, but there was no hardship laid upon Joseph and his expectant fiancé to arrive in Bethlehem. Jesus’s holy birth doesn’t match the Roman census inception dates.
Whether this is a child’s story or sacred text lauding the King of Kings, Christ’s mom and dad could use a little fine-smelling frankincense and gold. And how about this year’s crop of medicinal myrrh?
We could all use three star-gazers looking beyond, following a sign, reading omens.
This image grabs my attention.
The three wise men may have spotted a heliacal rising; a planet hoisting sail before the sun fully lit. Added to this marvel, the planet could have managed to hover. Greek astrologers called this epano when a planet pauses then changes direction from east to west. In such remarkable skies I can see why they may have considered this baby royalty.
But the lowly barn…born in poverty…crossing unknown lands…
I realize for weeks I’ve been replaying the same musical measures in my mind.
Closing my eyes, I see the Memorial Hall stage. Chatter hushes as the house lights fade. The Maestro enters. Adagio strings wake the night sky. They dance behind a dimly lit scrim. The silken film illumines a ballerina wrapped in opalescent fabric unfurling in chainé turns: The Eastern Star. My young body barely sits, anticipating your entrance. From stage left, appears each wise man: King Melchior, King Balthazar, and finally you, the tenor, singing the role of King Caspar.
Gian Carlo Minotti’s Amahl and The Night Visitors remains the last great performance you offered after putting your opera career aside to conduct music and instruct. Later, our opera company employed People of Color to portray the Kings, a decision you applauded.
Christ’s iconic origin story is rendered for a deeper reason, as a relatable symbol who would grow up to wash feet, pray with outcasts, and minister to sick and bereaved. Enslaved people, the misunderstood, those judged and unheard, they would relate to such a leader.
People have been crossing lands to escape persecution, tyranny, poverty, and torture for centuries. Currently, over 625,000 Muslim and Hindu Rohingya were forced out of Myanmar. An estimated 5 million Syrians have sought refuge. Yemenis claim no country will take them. The few who make it out—even the doctors who stay and help who cannot feed their families—describe cholera, diphtheria, starvation, and violence. A human catastrophe.
Horace Mann, the great educator said I’m supposed to be ashamed to die until I’ve won a victory for humanity. You taught me these words first.
Daddy, how can I make a difference?
This year has been horrible. I hear people say this in the grocery line. They’re ready for Father Time to bring down his mighty scythe and slice 2018 off into Auld Lang Syne.
Closer examination shows a historical relationship between death and new beginning. Chronos passes the great hat to the New Year’s Baby and we make our resolutions. To clean the slate and make reparations dates back hundreds even thousands of years. Looking for goodness and light—
Goodness and your favorite word to describe babies: mirthful.
Daddy, I have good news:
An Ode in extreme brief to the year 2018 (Mirth Announcement):
“Born at 3:55 am on November 7th – Our great-nephew brought families together in a moment of pure celebration, a beacon.”
Glad tidings of great joy. Behold, a baby brings us out of the darkness.
* * *
A month later, a child died while in border patrol custody.
I walked down Washington Blvd. with friends. Subdued, I slowed my pace, stopped and turned to my good friend André Hardy Sr.
I can’t get the news out of my mind.
It’s with me in here.
My palm ached against my breastbone.
That’s because she’s everyone’s child.
When you know it then you accept that we’re all connected.
We began walking again.
André, they don’t even know her name.
Days later, the nation learned 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin’s name.
She was our responsibility. Hungry, high-fevered, exhausted, Jakelin died at the feet of this nation.
Not the first immigrant to die. Not even the first this year. Now, another child dies on Christmas Eve.
8-year-old Guatemalan, Felipe Alonzo-Gomez. Let there be a reckoning.
Jakelin is everybody’s child. Felipe Alonzo-Gomez is everyone’s child.
I boast no promises, understanding how small a life of service registers. What I’ve done and left undone, what’s wrong all around me; there’s more to unwork than I could ever tackle, and much more suffering left unsaid. But Father, you taught me a great truth: Mercy is stronger than a wall.
If kindness is an act of sedition, then I am guilty. I will kind my way through another year. Thank you for showing me how.
Your loving daughter,
Andrea Auten is a writer and arts teacher. At Lunch Ticket, she is the Assistant Managing Editor of Social Media | Community Outreach and Marketing. A graduate of the MFA and post-MFA programs at Antioch University Los Angeles, she is currently working on her short story collection. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons, the family cats, and just down the 101 a piece, her new grand-nephew.